Prime World E3 2011 Preview -- Can The Casual and Hardcore Peacefully Coexist?By Stephen Johnson - Posted Jun 16, 2011
Strategy game developer Nival’s Prime World is ambitious. The big idea is to bring a ‘core style RTS to the denizens of Facebook, but to do it without alienating the casual gamers who populate the social network. It’s a Utopian worldview where the most casual of casual gamers and the most hardcore of the ‘core will play the same multiplayer game in harmony, with neither group looking down on the other.
Prime World comes from Russia, the ancestral home of insanely idealistic ideologies that crack apart when exposed to the cold light of actual reality. Like Communism, Prime World sounds really good on paper. It works like this: You build up your Prime World forces on Facebook or through a mobile app, then, when you’re ready for battle, fire up your PC program and team up with up to four of your pals, and participate in PvP battles with other teams. If one of your teammates is a casual game fan, he or she will be able to play a light-hearted mini-game that will bring the rest of the team scrolls that significantly boost the group.
Another interesting social-gaming wrinkle: Prime World tries to engineer sexual equality by giving bonuses to teams made up of males and females, so you will be trying to convince your girlfriend to stop watching Say Yes to the Dress in favor of a little Prime World.
The game takes place in a mythical world divided into two factions: the Imperium, a tech-based society that loves machines and science, and the Keepers, a hippie-style community focused on using magic. Sadly, Science and Art can’t peacefully coexist in Prime World. The source of conflict comes from the Prime of the game’s title. Prime is a fuel source for both machines and magic, so the factions are always fighting each other for this precious natural resource.
In keeping with the something-for-everyone mission of Prime World, the setting combines visual cues from both Eastern and Western mythologies to create an artistically pleasing battlefield for armies to take over. These aren’t the most advanced graphics you’ve ever seen on a PC game, but they’re pretty. The Facebook portion of the game, on the other hand, looks amazing. You’ll have your own little fiefdom to rule over, and manage, in order to gain in-game advantage in the “real” RTS play in Prime World.
The gameplay is similar to RTSs like Defense of the Ancients. You control a “hero” character (I chose a dude with a mustache who rides a giant frog that eats his enemies) and do battle with an army. The gameplay involves gathering Prime by taking territory and murdering your opposition, then upping your talent tree to make yourself more powerful.
As you’d expect from an RTS, the action is frantic. You have to work hard and fast to power yourself up before your adversaries destroy you. As you take over areas, your faction’s unique art style transforms the landscape, and your spells and talents have more effect. The skill trees are way deep, consisting of passive and active talents that work for both offense and defense, as well as buffs for you and your teammates. While I didn’t have time to delve deeply into the talent tree, it’s obvious a lot of care has been taken to make sure gamers can create a very customized hero to suit his or her individual playstyle. It seems like a deep, deep system.
“That doesn’t sound too casual to me,” you might be saying. Well, Mr. Doubter-Of-Me, here’s where the casual part comes in: One player can choose to play a mini-game instead of participating in the battle proper, so casual players will be playing a color matching game or something while everyone else fights. I tried out a mini-game based on Zuma, and it’s fun. Mindless, mini-game fun. Completion of the mini-games results in rewards and power-ups for your team. The development team at Nival assure me that the power-ups will really matter in the outcome of the game, so it will make sense to have someone playing something light while the rest of the gang fights.
It’s a bit of an inexplicable mechanic – after all, if the casual scrolls really matter, what hardcore player will want to be the one who has to play a casual game while everyone else fights? And what casual player really wants the kind of pressure there would be having a gang of hardcore RTS players depending on the results of their Zuma games? But still, it’s a very interesting idea, and just maybe, if it’s implemented just right, it could really change the way people think of the division between hardcore and casual gaming.